The year is 2017, and voicing your concerns at the idea that vigilantes can just punch people they disagree with, makes you slightly worse than Adolf Hitler.

This whole discussion started on Twitter. Now summing-up and continuing in a medium where every nuanced argument does not have to fit in a neat 140 characters1.

“Why do you love Nazis so much?”

If you remotely know me and utter that statement, you are being a glib arsehole. If you don’t know me at all, you are still favouring ad hominem while completely missing the point. Either way, I am afraid there is just no point discussing further.

“You aren’t a Nazi. You are way worse: you are an appeaser !”

Remember when Bush Jr used that term to attack people who opposed the war in Iraq? Congratulations, you have just used a Dick Cheney talking point to justify the use of gratuitous violence.

“Appeasing” does not mean what you think it means. Appeasement was the cowardly policy of letting Hitler murder his people and invade neighbouring countries, in the hope that he would enjoy his victories and stop there. The farthest victories enjoyed by our 21st century nazi so far, has been the ability to broadcast his spiteful bile to a bunch of basement-dwelling internet trolls and talking to the occasional moron journalist (more on that in a minute). Your problem is with free speech and its limits, not “appeasement”.

“Calling for genocide is not free speech.”

We are finally in somewhat-sane debating territory. And you are right: even the US’ extremely permissive free speech laws prohibit incitement. That’s great news: someone ought to drag this muppet to court and make an example out of him.

Except: chances are, he never outright called for genocide, because like most semi-successful scumbags, he is smart enough to know how far he legally can go.

Most of his statements, however, would easily land him in a European court, where people are understandably more touchy about the whole nazi-speech thing. I happen to lean with Chomsky and against this attempt at legislating hate away, but I would not necessarily think that people on either side of that debate are freedom-haters or nazi-lovers…

The crucial word in all the above is “legal”. That bit of nazi-punching occurred in a country that enjoys a reasonably sturdy (if imperfect) legal framework that offers some decent amounts of protection from physical oppression by civilians2. If you object to speech: you have legal recourses. If these recourses are lacking, you still have many options to fight back without resorting to punching. But the fact you don’t have legal recourses in a lawful state would be a good indication that you are not being directly threatened physically, and that’s where most people consider punching a no-no.

“As a non-oppressed person, you are not entitled to have a position on this”

First, this is a comically bad application for this argument. As a very-white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, financially-secure guy, there are very few discourses I could legitimately cry oppression about, and yet as it happens this is the one instance where I am fairly sure I have a lot more personal skin in that game than the sheltered black-bloc teenager with anger issues who socked our nazi3.

Moreover, that is an incredibly silly thing to respond to someone voicing concern about the legitimisation of violence in a civilian context: it might be relevant if I was defending his right to free speech, but I am not. I am defending his right to not be punched, as long as he does not present a clear and present danger to anyone.

“If punching people is off-limits, I guess you’d rather we engage nazis and be nice to them”

Actually no. There is a huge array of options between “engaging” (or even “tolerating”), and punching. My preferred option by far, would be to completely shun and ignore that sort of abhorrent but fringe views, and instead focus on the much more concrete danger of a toxic authoritarian moron (and his cronies) heading one of the most powerful country on Earth. But I realise this is a lot more difficult than reposting cool memes of a hateful leech getting repeatedly elbowed in the face, to a cool beat.

“That nazi is now a walking joke who has gone into hiding and lives in fear: Punching Works!”

Ignoring the whole “end-justifies-means” angle for a second, even this tiny achievement is verifiably false: never has there been more mentions of him in my social media feeds, the guy is now giving interviews left and right and featured in every single news outlet. Congratulations on giving a piece-of-shit nazi the kind of media exposure he could only ever dream of a week ago. Hope that meme was worth it.

Most importantly: assuming it even achieved any measurably positive result, what is the end game here? Do we go around punching every nazi sympathisers until not one dares speak up in public4? Obviously, we next have to do the same to every racist arsehole out there5. Or perhaps we start with all the homophobic scumbags freely spouting their hate on TV?

Guess you have a lot of punching to do. Off you go then. Good luck and remember: thumb always on the outside.

“Whatever… It won’t achieve much but at least it felt good watching a nazi getting punched.”

… is probably where that debate should start, if everyone was honest with themselves.

And yes: it did feel good watching that spiteful piece-of-shit getting sucker-punched mid-sentence. It still feels good after repeat viewing, and some of these nazi-punching memes are outright hilarious.

But there’s a major difference between having a positive visceral reaction to an act of violence, and intellectually condoning and defending it. That difference is the essence of modern democratic societies: the idea that might does not make right6.

Once this is acknowledged, feel free to accept the use of extra-legal civilian violence in times of peace as an agent of social change, but do not be surprised when you find yourself in the company of the very people you claim to be fighting.

“OK. Maybe not a great idea. But really not worth fretting about.”

Because when a populist authoritarian xenophobe just became President of the USA and is pushing to keep his own privately-ran militia, what could go wrong with the legitimisation of unsanctioned violence committed by private citizens?

How much do you want to bet, that this video will soon resurface, reframed as an example of the lawlessness of the land and the need for more authoritarian control? When your grandma from Kansas sees the video of a nicely-dressed gentleman with a friendly demeanour, speaking in a reassuringly calm tone, getting suddenly knocked out by a masked assaillant, do you think she will think “that nazi scum had it coming”? And if you just said “screw stupid grandma and her Fox News-bred ignorance”, congratulations: you are a perfect example of how a populist moron with marginal support managed to win that election.

The main reason punching nazis is bad7, is that, on top of achieving no measurable positive long-term result, it will likely bolster the moral and PR position of said nazis and other, less cartoonishly evil but no less despicable, people.

“Had there been more nazi-punching in the 1930s, maybe things would have turned better”

… is what you might say, if you have never opened a history book describing the ascension to power of the German Nazi party in the 1930s.

One of the main reasons Hitler was able to transform a thin electoral victory within a weak-but-functioning democracy, into complete totalitarian control, in a matter of years, was precisely the perception that public order was no longer assured and that social norms had broken down. A perception mostly orchestrated by nazi propaganda, but conveniently supported by a decade of street violence by post-spartakist KPD and other radical leftwing movements. It did not matter how morally justified or isolated these acts of civilian violence may have been: they were propped up as examples of the failings of democracy and, by the time the Reichstag burnt down, enough Germans were fine with a dictatorship.

To be very clear: the vast majority of that nazi punching was entirely justified, and you would have hopefully found me cheering on the punching if not outright participating. But never use it as an argument that pre-emptively punching nazis in the street is how you prevent nazis from gaining power, because that’s demonstrably false.

“Shut up already… Alt-right stooge…”

At the end of the day, I do not think this incident is either the next Reichstag Fire, nor as innocuous and laugh-inducing as some would want it to be. I am fairly confident that the vast majority of people who disagree with me on this somewhat-academic issue are not bloodthirsty beasts. I may also be completely blind to the very real and impending risk of that nazi’s ruthlessly organised online paramilitary organisation taking over the country tomorrow and putting his unfathomably horrid ideas into practice. Maybe that black-bloc guy was actually a time-traveller who prevented the next Hitler. In any case, I think it is a debate where it is perfectly possible to hold either opinion and still be a very decent person one might enjoy a cup of coffee with8.

Interestingly enough, that is not the position of many people on the opposite side of this debate. Apparently, merely questioning whether punching people is OK, automatically moves me from the cozy near-radical leftwing views I always foolishly thought I held, to the outer fringes of Pepe-loving foaming Rightwing Twitter trolls. At least based on some of the lovely measured reactions I got on Twitter on occasions where the topic came up9.

And that, (not so) ironically, is a good example of why allowing the free punching of nazis without due process, is a dangerous idea.

  1. This other post gave a good summary of my own thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, with a needless anti-intellectual, leftwing-strawmaning tangent in point 4. []
  2. Yes: with many systemic oppression issues. But the sources of that oppression are overwhelmingly agents of authority, not sociopathic weirdos wearing a frog lapel pin. []
  3. Before you howl at my reductive characterisation of typical black-block protesters, you better make sure you know what you are talking about. Because I was a stupid teenager once, and I have a pretty good first-hand idea. []
  4. Good thing they don’t have any worldwide network that would let them anonymously share their despicable ideas and organise from the comfort of their home, safe from punching, huh? []
  5. Unless you think it is acceptable to only wish black people dead, as opposed to both blacks and Jews. But you don’t, do you? []
  6. And for the love of Hobbes, spare me your arguments about State violence, and resistance to it. This particular internet-forum nazi was most definitely not an agent of the State nor exercising violence in its name. []
  7. Assuming you live in 2017 DC, and not in some alternate dimension where the Reich controls the Eastern seaboard… []
  8. By comparison, I doubt I could even enjoy a post-apocalyptic survival meal with a Trump supporter. []
  9. I would bet a tenner that this guy, for example, is busy patting himself on the back for telling off one of them Trump-loving nazis… []

Earlier today, French artist Joann Sfar1 published a short series of drawings on the Terrorist attacks that took place in Paris. Because they sum up my feelings much better than any tricolour lighting or Twitter hashtag ever will, I took the liberty to embed them here with my own humble attempt at an English translation:

  1. I warmly recommend his series of graphic novels: The Rabbi’s Cat []

Ukip in Britain, Front National in France, and a similar array of smiling europhobic racists and neo-fascists in Denmark, Austria and Hungary

In most cases (except perhaps the UK, who really just doesn’t get that whole EU thing): because people just can’t be arsed enough to cast a serious vote, or cast a vote at all, at EU elections, and would rather “send a message” to their respective local governments by voting for the looniest candidate with a populist slant they like. Even if that means fucking up one of the only political entity that can truly make a positive mark on their lives in the coming decades.

Way to go, people.

These days, presumably to make up for the shutting down of US panda-cams, the World has taken a keen interest in the reproduction problems of the Japanese people.

The last wave started with a cheap click-baiting article in the Guardian, who really, by now, should know better than publish poorly-researched articles about made-up Japanese “trends”. On par with its gratuitously sensationalising title, the article gleefully mixed miscellaneous unconnected research data with completely random anecdotal stuff. Using the thin pretense of studying Japan’s problematic demographics, to go on a fact-finding mission with a Japanese dominatrix turned sex coach: because prurient article on the wacky sexual habits of the Japanese sell so much better than boring age pyramid charts and the like.

In response to this new milestone in paid-by-the-click pseudo-journalism, a few marginally better-written articles popped up, somehow attempting to reframe the discussion into something approaching fact-based reporting. While a whole lot more just piled on, presumably in hope of getting some of that sweet sweet internet buzz. Finally, some journalists pointed out the glaringly racist undercurrent running through the whole thing (not that orientalism is a new thing), charitably overlooking gross journalistic incompetence as the key ingredient to that potent mix of offensive stupidity.

In the lesser spheres of non-retributed publishing, every Japan-related blog or forum has contributed its fair share of anecdotal comments ranging from the Reddit-topping hilariously inept armchair pop-psy take on it1 to the ubiquitous (and no less silly) counter-argument: “These articles must be wrong, because I know lots of Japanese who are having lots of sex. (wink wink nudge nudge)“.

Some Japanese blogger came very close to summarising my exact thoughts on the subject, in a few neat statistical plots2. But it still missed some fundamental issues I have with this joke of a news trend, so I thought I’d give it my own try:

  1. Extra irony points for having started in the psychology subforum of Reddit, where people are hard at work dispelling any notion that it might be an actual science. []
  2. I know: not exactly gonna sway the masses against the appeal of “Queen Ai, professional Japanese dominatrix” and Guardian in-house resident statistics expert. []

And so it has come to pass, yet another towering political figure of the not-so-distant past is gone, her questionable legacy shielded from scrutiny by the buffer of a couple decades spent decaying into pitiful senility.

I hear it is bad form to speak ill of the dead (some disagree), so I will just let her give us some highlights in her own words:

  • On Nelson Mandela’s liberation movement: a “typical terrorist organization” (in 1987).
  • On Augusto Pinochet, her indefectible friend: “it is you who brought democracy to Chile” (in 1999, yes ninety-fucking-nine).
  • On the gays: “[a local authority] shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” (Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988).
  • On the immigrants: not keen on them at all (“If you want good race relations, you have got to allay peoples’ fears on numbers”), but “less objection to refugees such as Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians, since they could more easily be assimilated into British society”: you know, the white ones (in 1979).
  • On feminism and women rights: “I hate feminism. It is poison.” (to her advisor), “The battle for women’s rights has largely been won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever. I hate those strident tones we hear from some Women’s Libbers.” (from a 1982 lecture).

All that without even getting into the disastrous economic legacy1, the annihilation of the British working class and the crushing of anything resembling solidarity or compassion (you can see the wince on her face at the mention of such horrible marxist concepts) in most aspects of British social policies.

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

Clarence Darrow
  1. As a bonus: the emergence of financial institutions with no checks or responsibilities, let free to run the world’s economy into the ground 20 years later. []

It was recently discovered that DPRK’s last semi-hilarious attempt at getting a front slot on Western news (a cheesy video depicting the fiery destruction of NYC by a proud North Korean-made nuclear missile) had been mainly lifted from a US videogame… Some poor official propaganda video editor is probably getting a free trip to Bukchang gulag for that one.

But this is not what I find most noteworthy in that video.

The soundtrack to that heartwarming tale of the victorious rise of the Juche over the pulverised radioactive ashes of imperialist Western children is, I jest not, a cheap instrumental synth version of We are the World.

If there ever was a less subtle way to say “Give us our annual dose of ‘humanitarian aidnow or we will throw a tantrum until you do”, I don’t know what it is.

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals”…

The most annoying part about trying to hold any Fukushima-related conversation over the past couple weeks: being made to feel like a tireless cheerleader for TEPCO, the Japanese government or nuclear energy in general. Merely refusing the whole panicky, guts-over-science, interpretation of events automatically left me in that corner over there, with the energy company shills, neo-con climate change deniers and simple-minded fools doomed to die a fiery nuclear death.

This is particularly enraging, if somewhat ironic, considering how much I loathe practically every aspects of public policy-making in Japan. In usual times, I am the culturally-insensitive boorish gaijin who snidely comments on the levels of inertia, corruption and inefficiency ingrained in Japan’s particular brand of bureaucratic para-democracy, getting much awkward silence and polite placating from annoyed Japanese counterparts (yes, I am the life of parties).

So, let me spell it out for the dialectically-challenged out there: Fuck TEPCO. Fuck its useless bunch of amakudari, working hand-in-hand with their equally self-serving ministry bureaucrat friends to keep their cushy retirement gigs at the expense of pretty much everything else. They are a perfect (though far from unique) embodiment of everything that is wrong with Japanese politics and bureaucracy. And most of it has absolutely nothing to do with the uncontrollable consequences of one of the strongest natural disaster to ever hit a modern country. If you want to blame TEPCO for something, why don’t you start by going back to 1995 and have a look at their practice of hiring Japanese lower-class burakumin to work in sub-standard conditions

While I am at it: let me also publicly state my fervent dislike of nuclear radiations, tsunamis, cancer, war, famine and innocent children’s tears.

That being said…

How about first revisiting those heady days of post-tsunami events and the journalistic gold-rush for fear-mongering, grossly-inaccurate, paper-selling nuggets of gold. Remember? When “Western media had a better grasp of the situation than you people on the ground”1. The somewhat condescending idea that foreign media gave an inherently better coverage of the news, by virtue of their independence and superior journalistic skills…
Here is the deal about foreign media and what they publish(ed) about Fukushima: their facts all come from one place. The very same place Japanese media get their facts from, the same place everybody gets their facts from: official TEPCO press releases and Japanese government spokesmen. CNN does not have some embedded journalist traipsing around reactor #3 with a geiger counter or a mole inside the DPJ headquarters: they do like everybody else and work from [poorly translated, second-hand-acquired] official news releases. So much for the “poorly informed” local media, kept in the dark while their foreign homologues expose the naked shocking truth to the world. Their only differences resided in their tone and the quality of their analysis. And on both counts, the less said, the better.

  1. True quote from some well-meaning moron to whom I was trying to impress that Japan was not the devastated radioactive wasteland he envisioned. []

I apologise for the avalanche of posts these days. I am sure you can understand why that is. I hope some are helping.

I just wrote this text to post elsewhere on the web, in response to someone due to visit Japan for some vacations in a few weeks and understandably worried about practical and ethical considerations… ‘thought it might help others too…

If you were planning to visit Japan in the near future (or if you even already arrived and were in the middle of your trip when the earthquake happened), you may naturally be inclined to cancel everything, either out of concern for your safety or out of respect for the victims of this tragedy. Should you stick to your plans and come nonetheless?

This is a difficult question…

The short answer is: yes, you should still come to Japan. Change as little as you can to your plans and have as much of a normal vacation as possible.

As for the longer answer:

While Fox News is busy repurposing Shibuya nightclubs into nuclear plants and Europeans are hoarding potassium iodide capsules, Muammar Gaddafi is leisurely clawing back Eastern Libya and killing hundreds, to the deafening sound of silence in foreign media. Unleashing unrestrained military force over his own people, he has successfully crushed his way to the gates of Benghazi and has made no secret1 of what awaits those that were foolish enough to think the West would help their fight for freedom and democracy.

Little did they know: the perspective of thousands killed at the hand of a lunatic dictator in a faraway middle-eastern country, however preventable, just doesn’t make for the same quality of frontpage fear-mongering as some good ol’ worldwide nuclear scare.

Next-day update: Turns out you can’t even count on fickle news outlets to stick to their sensationalistic headlines for more than a week… it only took a last-minute UN vote (after much waffling) and a few bomb raids on Tripoli, for Japan to be relegated to some tiny one-liner in a corner of the front-page. So apparently nuclear apocalypse just wasn’t so imminent after all.

  1. Although I cannot find back that news quote, I believe his own words were along the line of “going door-to-door, purging the region” and “enacting retribution”. []